“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”
– John C. Maxwell
If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that change is inevitable—and it can happen fast. Many of us went from a fully staffed, mostly in-person, at-the-office work environment to an almost completely work-from-home (WFH) model—virtually overnight. Management of these efforts fell largely on HR and Training departments, which bravely rose to the challenge.
In any previous era, these types of major workplace and practice changes would have taken months or even years to implement in a programmatic and organized way. But now we’ve established a perceptual benchmark for the C-suite, who now expect us to turn on a dime, create new business processes, and implement entirely new guidelines…rapidly.
5 Strategies for Successful Rapid Change Management
While there’s no “one size fits all” for every project or situation, there are many tried-and-true best practices that help organizations enact change more quickly and effectively. Based on our hundreds of engagements with companies across different industries, here are five essential HR management strategies to drive rapid change within any organization, be it for responding to urgent needs or leading the way in new organization-wide initiatives.
Define your objectives.
Every project is a journey, but there’s no point hitting the open road if you don’t know where you’re going. Rapid change management still requires clear objectives, planning, budgeting, securing buy-in from the C-suite, and establishing timelines for deliverables, among other things.
When implementing new policies, it’s necessary to consider the wider business impact to ensure the changes align with business performance. Think of it this way: If change doesn’t tackle a specific issue or improve performance, how can the change be justified?
For rapid change to happen successfully, leaders must explain the reasoning behind the changes to secure employee buy-in. By clearly articulating the objectives from the start, employee performance and company performance will align. A clear objective is critical when addressing operational change and the objective should answer four questions:
- What is the opportunity to improve operations?
- Why should this be important to the business?
- How will this improvement impact the business?
- Who will this impact?
Build a team to enact change.
Building a team is a lot like building a house. You need a design, a foundation, materials, and a vision for what the result eventually will look like. Your team needs to include people with a variety of expertise, and you must take a holistic view to ensure success. To build a successful team, you should include the following structure:
- Project sponsor: The sponsor is the general manager who oversees everything. They organize the planning, secure buy-in from other executives, and are responsible for the final product.
- Project leader: This is the owner of the project and the one who is the functional expert in the operations being changed.
- Project manager: This functional expert manages the day-to-day operations of the plan, including timeline management, meeting leader, and liaison to the project leader.
- Analyst: The analyst creates policies, processes, workflows, and system configuration, and secures tools necessary for the implementation of new practices.
- Participants: These are employees from different departments who will be impacted by changes. They attend meetings, provide feedback, and might include technical experts who provide deeper knowledge of a specific area.
- Project champion: The champion works closely with the project sponsor but is also a key stakeholder. They advocate for the project to the C-suite.
Plan, plan, and stick to the plan.
While nobody wants to get caught up in analysis paralysis, any new project needs to follow the plan that everyone agreed to at the beginning. Yes, plans can and frequently do evolve over time, so a certain level of flexibility is required. To help ensure success, follow these four stages of planning:
- Discovery: Analyze the status of operations, identify gaps, and figure out how to close those gaps.
- Development: Design new policies, processes, and training materials, and communicate messages to explain new practices.
- Implementation: Launch communications and training plans, go live with new processes and systems, and pilot and monitor new practices to ensure the changes are operating as intended.
- Ongoing improvements: After periods of 30 to 60 to 90 days, solicit feedback from project team members and end-users to learn how new practices are performing. Develop sub-plans to fix issues or implement future improvements.
As with any large-scale plan and implementation, be sure to closely monitor timelines and deliverables to ensure the project is on schedule. Also, be sure to clearly define roles and responsibilities so everyone knows who is responsible for each activity.
Communicate clearly to initiate change.
With the pandemic, everyone saw it unfold in front of their eyes. Typically, change initiatives don’t start out with that kind of visibility, so the project team must “sell” it. The priority is to clearly communicate the importance of the project, how it’s going to happen, and the benefits the company will receive.
There are four parts to devising and sharing a plan to ensure success:
- Identify different audiences to receive communications. Determine the different messages, if necessary, by the group.
- Develop message schedules by group. Implement a calendar of introductory and launch messages, plus follow up to reinforce and encourage the changes.
- Identify delivery methods. Typically, these messages are delivered by department or function but remember to make them engaging and creative to garner attention.
- Draft key messages. Writing key messages helps ensure consistency throughout the entire organization. Everyone knows the plan and hears the same message.
Build off your blueprint through training.
Creating something new can be both exciting and overwhelming. What’s important is that the leaders of change create and implement training programs to ensure employees adapt to the changes. Why create a new process or alter the way teams operate if employees aren’t trained to work in new ways? To reap the benefits of any large-scale initiative that incorporates company-wide change, focus on these four areas:
- Identify different audiences for training. Determine the different pieces of training, if necessary, by a group based on user roles and/or responsibilities.
- Develop training schedule by group. The calendar should include a series of sessions to support introductory meetings and launches, as well as reinforcement after the launch to encourage change adoption.
- Identify delivery methods by group. Consider a mix of sessions being led onsite, self-service videos, and interactive learning guides.
- Draft curriculum. Create materials and content by group and delivery type. This could consist of live presentations, recorded Webinars, and other downloadable instructions and tools.
Change is inevitable, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t be excited about the opportunities growth brings. HR and Training are now seen as more mission-critical than ever, and if we approach this as an opportunity—and we have the right tools and processes in place to manage rapid change—we have an unprecedented opportunity to lead.
To help companies navigate rapid change projects, we’ve created a free, downloadable Rapid Change Management Playbook, complete with project plans and real-world examples to help you prepare for the next big change.